Smart Switches: Your Gateway to Home Automation

An introduction to smart switches, their advantage over regular switches, technology behind the switches and how you can install them into your smart home

You’ve probably come across the word “smart” attached to a host of things that you use on a daily basis. The most familiar being (smart) phones and TVs, but also watches and washing machines. What this indicates is that these gadgets or appliances are beyond ordinary,  usually connected to the internet, and offer conveniences that you wouldn’t find in their regular, not so smart, alternatives. So then what is a smart switch though? A switch is just a switch, isn’t it?  It was, till the turn of the millennium, since then your modern-day smart switch has become central to home automation adding unbelievable functionality to your homes, offices, and hotel rooms in ways that would have once been considered wizardry!

In this guide, we’ll talk about smart switches in detail covering

1. What smart switches are and what they can do
2. How they fit into home automation setups
3. How they work and how to install them
4. When they can add value to your home/office

1. What are smart switches and what they can do

Think of a smart switch as an enhanced, connected, multi-access portal to your lights, fans, and other appliances, while also performing the basic on/off function of your regular switch.

Physically, it is a replacement for the regular plastic/ceramic switch in your gang box and usually does not require a complete rewire of your electrical lines. Technology-wise, it is an intelligent, programmable, and user-friendly way to control your appliances while offering a great degree of convenience. 

As for what they can do, the list is long yet awesome so buckle up

  • For starters, they connect to the internet via your home/office network
  • By virtue of being on an online grid, they can be accessed from anywhere
  • This includes reading the state of the switch(on/off) from wherever you are
  • You can control the functionality of the switch via an app(remote access)
  • Most switches are compatible with your voice-activated assistants like Alexa, Google Assistant, etc
  • Because they are controlled and accessed digitally you can automate tasks based on time, occupancy of the home/office or set up a recurring schedule
  • If you have more than one smart switch in your setup, they can be controlled together say, to turn off the lights and draw the curtains when you are ready for bed
  • Most modern-day smart switches from reliable brands come with surge protection  that safeguards your appliances from voltage spikes
  • Bonus: there is the general wow factor that doubles up as a great conversation starter with guests

2. Smart Switches in Home Automation

Before we go on to explain what role smart switches play in home automation, let us understand what home automation is. 

Home automation is a collective of smart devices, switches, sensors and appliances that can work together based on preset or realtime instructions to reduce the amount of time and energy spent by users on a day to day basis.

A Day in the Life of a Smart Home Owner

Let us give you a great example. Imagine you have set your alarm for 6:00 AM. You have an important day ahead and you need your edge. The alarm sounds and as you wake up the curtains draw open to flood your bedroom with early morning sunlight - great start already! Your coffee maker comes alive and starts brewing you a steaming cup of your select blend. Alexa/Google starts listing off your to-dos for the day over a smart speaker and bringing you up to speed with the latest news and weather updates. Meanwhile your geyser turned on in the background to save you from that spine chilling drench of cold water when you hit the shower. Noticed how you just needed to walk into your bathroom and the lights came on automatically? You are dressed and looking sharp and walk to your car and the garage door and front gate automatically open as you pull off your driveway. 

As you hit the end of the street a notification one your phone screen says that your home has gone into power saver mode with the lights, fans and air conditioning all turned off. The geyser switch you barely knew existed has been turned off alongside an earmarked set of appliances like your TV, sound system etc that you may have missed. The security system has locked your front and back doors and the garage and main gates are secure.You weren’t focussing on all these tasks, your focus this morning has been elsewhere and rightly so. You smile to yourself, just as the lights turn green,and you set off to conquer the day.

That is what home automation is all about. Convenience, unparalleled convenience that just works on so many levels while making your life easier, stress free and productive. 

Smart Switches Behind the Scenes

Now let's come back to smart switches. Remember that curtain that opened as you woke up, the coffee maker and geyser that turned on in tandem with your morning routine? There is a smart switch behind each of those tasks and perhaps others. What’s more important and awesome is that you didn’t have to lift a finger(literally) for any of that to happen. That is the convenience that smart switches bring to the mix. 

Think of a smart switch as a fundamental unit of a home automation setup that enables automation of various tasks without having to physically walk up to it and turn it on(or off). 

3. Smart Switches workings in your Home Setup

Smart switches come in a wide variety offering different functionality and designs. Home automation experts and solution providers can help you identify your needs and customize your solutions based on your specific requirement, even decor. 

However, the real classification of smart switches is based on the technology that they use to communicate and integrate with your home grid. Broadly speaking these switches rely on

  • Bluetooth
  • Hardwired Cables
  • Wifi
  • Proprietary Tech - Zigbee

Bluetooth

These switches are a bit out of date and not really the best solution. The major drawback comes from not being able to be a part of a reliable and fast network or mesh. Most Bluetooth switches communicate on a one-to-one basis with another device. So basically you need to reach for your Bluetooth-enabled phone/tablet to access these switches handsfree. Not really an elegant solution in the grand scheme of things. 

Hardwired Cables

These are a more hardy alternative to wireless means but require a whole lot of cabling and re-cabling. Moreover, they need to connect to a hub, a separate device that is a conduit for instructions. While these switches don’t directly connect to the internet themselves. The hub acts as the middleman. While they are prone to less failure, they tend to cost more and are used in cases where wireless means can’t be deployed. Or when the sheer number of installations can't accommodate the cost of wireless-enabled smart switches.

Wifi

These versions are easier to install and set up. Without the need for additional cabling, they are best suited for small homes, villas, and offices. However, as the number of individual switches and independent devices in a space increase, your wi-fi router could take a toll and become sluggish. Compare it to a waiter at a restaurant having to take a three-course meal order from an excited and enthused family of eight while also having to upsell the day’s specials. That pumpkin soup is going to come medium-rare, that’s for sure.

Zigbee

Zigbee technology offers the convenience of wireless communication and the robustness of hardwired cabling while doing away with the shortcomings of both. Zigbee enabled smart switches to form a “mesh” , a grid of sorts where they communicate with one another and also with a hub(when necessary). This allows for a large number of smart switches to exist on the same network while allowing add-ons and expansion in the future as the need arises. They offer advanced self-healing properties thereby ensuring that instructions are relayed one way or the other to the target switch even if one of the Wi-fi routers in the path is malfunctioning. 

If you are going to bet on home automation, state-of-the-art tech like Zigbee etc are your best options. 

4. Smart Switch Installation

For a lot of the off the shelf smart switches, installation can be easy. Most of the time they won’t require experts to install them for you and it can be a weekend DIY project. After all most of these switches just need to be swapped in for your regular switches with some attention to wiring. But that’s not to say that these come with limitations. Cross compatibility of different brands and manufacturers is still in the works. What that can mean is that you will probably need a separate app to control different switches from different brands if they aren’t compatible with a common application. 

With these retail solutions, more often than not, you can’t build an “ecosystem” that functions seamlessly. It might come off looking like you used adhesive and duct tape to put together an entertainment cabinet - unsightly. 

Go with the Experts

If you are looking to build a smart home, ground up, or upgrade your existing home to a smart one, seek expert advice. It helps in the long run and you can be more specific with your goals. They can also help you save costs by providing the most cost-effective solutions. A good smart home solution partner can also guide you in making the right choices and not go overboard. 

Smart switches and by extension smart home solution providers are easy to find in India and around the world. A select few come with thousands of installations to their credit and finding them can be easy if you know what to look for. The technology that they depend on and the width of the solutions they provide are good indicators. 

The Smart Advantage

We have covered the convenience that comes from functionality that smart switches can bring to your life but there is more to these nifty little devices than meets the eye. 

Energy Savings

When you opt for smart home setups, savings on utility bills is a given. You are almost never consuming energy unnecessarily and can always set up devices to switch off when not in use. This can be based on sensors that detect occupancy in a room or based on the geo-location of your personal devices like your smartphone or smartwatch. 

Futureproof

You are covered for the future. Increasing capacity or adding functionality is a breeze. With great solution providers, your systems and technology are constantly getting upgrades allowing you to add more and more devices to your arsenal. 

Voice Control

The advantage of voice control can’t be stressed enough. It adds a whole new layer of control and convenience considering you almost always have access to your phone and all you need to do is say “Turn on the lights”

Versatility

From helping set the scene at a party to scheduling your bedtime routines smart switches can offer them a unique opportunity to make life easier for you while getting the best out of your day. 


Get Smart

Like we explained at the outset, smart switches are the gateway to home automation. By installing a smart switch you have already set off an incredible journey of tech discovery. We at Toyama Control Solutions can make this journey an incredible one for you. Reach out to us for a demo and we can introduce you to the limitless wonders in the world of home automation.


 


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